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The Electra Of Euripides

by Murray Gilbert

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Text extracted from opening pages of book: THE ELECTR A OF EURIPIDES TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH RHYMING VKRSE WITH EXPLANATORY NOTES BY GfLBKRT MURRAY, LLD., D. Lirr. KK< jlU*> I'KOPKte'jUtt ( IK UKLKK IN 1 HIC UNIVKRH'I V UP OXl'ORD T\ V5NTY-l'lkST yr LONDON: ( SKORGK ALLEN A UNWIN LTD. RUSKJN IIODSK 40 MUSKUM STUKK'l 1 , W. C. [ All rights ic l * eivnl] First Edition, November r Reprinted, November 1906 ,, February 1908 ,, March 1.910 M December 1910 February 1913 April 1914 PKRFOKMED AT THK COURT THKATRU, LONDON IN 1907 INTRODUCTION 1 THE Eltctra of Euripides has the distinction of being, perhaps, the best abused^ and, one might add, not the best understood, of ancient tragedies. a A singular monument of poetical, or rather unpoetical perver sity ; the very worst of all his pieces ; are> for instance, the phrases applied to it by Schlegel. Con sidering that he judged it by the standards of con ventional classicism, he could scarcely have arrived at any different conclusion. For it is essentially, and perhaps consciously, a protest against those standards. So, indeed, is the tragedy of Tht Trojan Women ; but on very different lines. The Electro has none of the imaginative splendour, the vast ness, the intense poetry, of that wonderful work. It is a close-knit, powerful, well-constructed play, as realistic as the tragic con ventions will allow, intellectual and rebellious. Its psychology reminds one of Browning, or even of Ibsen, To a fifth-century Greek all history came in the form of legend ; and no less than three extant tragedies, Aeschylus* Libation-Bearers ( 456 B* C.), Euri pides* Elictra ( 413 B. c), and Sophocles 1 Eltctra ( date unknown : but perhaps the latest of the three) arc based on the particular piece of legend or history now before us. It narrates how the son and daughter 1 Mont of this introduction is reprinted, by the kind permission of the Editors, from an article in the Independent Jtcvitw, vol. i. No. 4. ri INTRODUCTION of the murdered king, Agamemnon, slew, in due course of revenge, and by Apollo's express command, their guilty mother and her paramour. Homer had long since told the story, as he tells so many, simply and grandly, without moral questioning and without intensity, The atmosphere is heroic. It is all a blood-feud between chieftains, in which Orestes, after seven years, succeeds in slaying his foe Aegisthus, who had killed his father. He probably killed his mother also ; but we are not directly told so, His sister may have helped him, and he may possibly have gone mad afterwards; but these painful issues arc kept determinedly in the shade, Somewhat surprisingly, Sophocles, although by his time Electra and Clytemnestra had become leading figures in the story and the mother-murder its essen tial climax, preserves a very similar atmosphere. His tragedy is enthusiastically praised by Schlegel for the celestial purity, the fresh breath of life and youth, that is diffused over so dreadful a subject. Every thing dark and ominous is avoided, Orestes enjoys the fulness of health and strength. He is beset neither with doubts nor stings of conscience, Espe cially laudable is the austerity with which Aegisthus is driven into the house to receive, according to Schlegel, a specially ignominious death I This combination of matricide and good spirits, however satisfactory to the determined classicist, will , probably strike most intelligent readers as a little curious, and even, if one may use the word at all in connection with so powerful a play, undramatic It INTRODUCTION vii becomes intelligible as soon as we observe that Sopho cles was deliberately seeking what he regarded as an archaic or w Homeric style ( cf. Jebb, Introd. p. xli.) ; and this archaism, in its turn, seems to me best explained as 2 conscious reaction against Euripides' starching and unconventional treatment of the same subject ( cf, Wiiamowitz in Htrnw, xviii. pp. 214 ), In the result Sophocles is not only more classical than Euripides he



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